As one of the first residents of Moncton’s tent city settles into her new home, she is speaking out about her experiences in the hopes of encouraging others to break the cycle.
Born and raised in Toronto, Shannon Camilleri is no stranger to hardship. The two-time cancer survivor escaped homelessness just a few weeks ago.
But life wasn’t always this difficult for Camilleri.
“I was working at a five-star hotel. I was night auditor, I was the night manager, and I was also the hotel writer,” she recalls. “I wrote the blog and internal-external newsletters.”
With diplomas in hospitality and digital film and TV production, Camilleri moved to Halifax a few years ago with her fiancé.
But things quickly took an ugly turn for the couple.
“Unfortunately, 10 hours after we got to the East Coast, my fiancée was beaten pretty bad, and he was left for dead, so they took our money and everything,” she says. “So that’s where my homelessness truthfully started.”
The cycle of living in shelters in Halifax didn’t work out, so they moved to Moncton -- her fiancé’s hometown.
They moved around from shelter to shelter in Moncton and were the first people to set up in tent city, where they spent endless nights in the freezing cold and extreme heat.
Camilleri says she eventually developed a drug addiction while living at the site. She notes that many people don’t understand mental illness and addiction often come with being homeless.
Now, 65 days clean, she is enjoying her new apartment, which she moved into a few weeks ago.
“When I woke up and heard the rain, the first thing I thought was, ‘I gotta go outside and make sure my tarp is OK,’ and then I woke up and realized I was in my own bed,” she recalls of her first night in her new home.
But those who work on the frontlines say it’s crucial to provide support beyond those four walls.
“We need to have a place where people belong, their own house,” says Lisa Ryan, a member of the Greater Moncton Homelessness Steering Committee. “That will always solve homelessness, housing with supports, diverse housing, preventative housing … it’s incredibly exciting to see people move forward.”
Camilleri says she’s settling into her new life, but it still feels surreal.
“It’s the best feeling, every time I walk out and walk in,” she says. “It’s like I can’t help but smile. Sometimes I even laugh.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kate Walker